BOULDER, Colo. (CBS) – Scientists in Boulder are taking a closer look at the impact humans have on the global climate. They say the evidence is clear.
“The rise of CO2 is inextricably linked, so far, in our history to the Industrial Revolution and global economic growth,” said Dr. John Miller.
Miller is a climate scientist who works for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.
It’s just one of the many organizations studying climate change in Colorado. CIRES is a joint institute run by the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
Miller and his coworkers are studying how the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has changed over the course of history.
They can easily illustrate those changes on a device called Science on a Sphere. Hilary Peddicord used it to explain how the levels of carbon dioxide have changed in recent years.
“We see that in 2000 at the beginning of this animation the global average is a little over 365 (parts per million). As we move really quickly through this data set you can see that the global average is changing on the color bar, signifying that carbon dioxide is actually pooling in the atmosphere,” she said. “The global average rose almost 30 parts per million in just 10 years.”
Scientists in Boulder study the atmosphere by getting air samples from all over the world. People actually collect air in flasks then mail it back to NOAA sending scientists about 20,000 flasks a year.
Dr. Lori Bruhwiler works in NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory specifically looking at what is behind that increase in carbon dioxide.
COLORADO’S WEATHER CENTER: Watch more reports from the CBS4 special “The Science of Climate Change”
“What’s driving the climate change is human emissions of greenhouse gases and we’re very certain of this,” she said. “We can account for the amount that’s been emitted by fossil fuels mostly and we can use simple physics and math to understand what the impact on the Earth’s temperature will be.”
But fossil fuels have been a key ingredient in building economies and improving standards of life in the developed nations.
“The early parts of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century there was a moderate rise,” Miller said. “But really it’s been since World War II that really industrialization throughout the world has taken off and that’s when we see a dramatic spike of the CO2 that’s in the atmosphere today.”
Part of the problem is that carbon dioxide sticks around for about 100 years after it’s been emitted. Continued emissions worry Bruhwiler.
“People will be displaced. We may have problems growing the food we need to feed our population. Unfortunately the poorest areas the world will be hit the hardest,” she said.
However, in all their research, the scientists do see encouraging news about climate change.
“One interesting thing that happened for the first time ever last year was the fact that for the first time we saw C02 emissions leveling off, so globally there was no change between 2014 and 2013, yet economic productive increased by about 3 percent,” Miller said.
“The only other times we’ve not emissions go up is when we’ve had the global recession, so people are pretty confident, the economists are pretty confident that what happened in 2014 is that renewable energy became a large enough part of the global energy system that we were able to decouple emissions from economic growth.”
Miller says increasing new energy resources like solar or wind is key in the fight against climate change. He’s encouraged by countries like China which has made solar panel production and the use of solar energy a priority.
And Bruhwiler says now is the time to act.
“Studies have shown existing technologies are adequate for us to begin addressing the problem right now. We don’t have to wait for future technology, we have the renewables. What we need really is the will.”